Jake Gyllenhaal , a busy man, is staring in a new off Broadway production, Sea Wall/A Life . It’s not his first time on the New York stage, but it is the first time a director has staged him at the piano as the audience files in. This artistic choice has created a problem—or maybe not a problem, but rather a pre-show show? A little dramatic amuse bouche, if you will.
Here it is: An anonymous theatergoer told Page Six that Gyllenhaal himself has become a living attraction. “It’s so funny,” this person said. “All these kids are going right up to the stage and trying to get his attention. They’re pressed right up at the front. It’s like a Justin Bieber show.”
“It looked like [Gyllenhaal] was trying not to laugh,” the tipster added. To which a show rep told Page Six, “Jake is a consummate professional. He’s not ‘trying not to laugh’; his character is trying not to laugh.” Ah, it’s the old Jake versus Jake’s character koan. If there is no Jake Gyllenhaal beginning a little before 8:00 p.m., every night but Sunday, but his body is there and so is face, are the teens in this world or his character’s world? Does the audience have to know they’re participating in a participatory theater for it to be a participatory theater? Because Jake is in character, are those around him set pieces in his one-man show?
Oh gosh, maybe it’s not so complicated; maybe it’s just a dramaturgical flourish. As the director Carrie Cracknell recently told Vanity Fair :
We try to really get rid of that skin that you normally have between the actor and the audience. They often respond to the audience. If someone is coughing, once Jake went off and got her water and came back with it. Or if a phone goes off, they might say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s okay.’ So they’re really trying to be in the room with the people who’ve come to watch it each night, and they take that energy and they put that into the performance. I think it’s quite unusual for actors, particularly with Jake; he’s so well known and he’s made such an incredible set of very distinctive characters. Actually what he was interested in was throwing some of that away and trying to be closer to himself and trying to just perform in a way that’s very, very open, very responsive, and quite simple.
Advertisement But that doesn’t explain the biggest mystery: Why are the teens treating Broadway like it’s Madison Square Garden, those scamps? What’s even attracting the teens to this play? Or plays, rather. Sea Wall/A Life is one bill comprised of two monologues. Are the teens so interested in the themes of life, death, and fatherhood? Probably not, right? I suppose these kids could also know Gyllenhaal from Velvet Buzzsaw , the art world horror satire, available on Netflix since January. It would make some sort of sense. Gyllenhaal’s Velvet Buzzsaw co-star Tom Sturridge gives the second monologue, the “Sea Wall” to his “A Life.” One can imagine that the teens who are begging their parents to drop $250 on this particular Off Broadway performance, must have old, dusty souls. They heard “art world horror satire,” and were intrigued. They watched it one Tuesday night after flute practice or SAT tutoring, thought it was so-so, but still jump at the chance to see two of its stars on the stage. I don’t know for sure whether these are Velvet Buzzsaw-heads who are making Jake’s character try not to laugh. I’m just saying it’s possible!
More likely, though, the teens know Gyllenhaal from when he played the villain in the most recent Spider-Man movie. No, not the Spider-Man movie that starred that one young British fellow nor the Spider-Man movie with the upside-down kiss nor the Spider-Man movie with the pig voiced by John Mulaney . It’s the one with the other young British fellow, Tom Holland . Gyllenhaal is in the sequel to that one, Spider-Man: Far From the Shallow Now , or what have you.
Kids these days are so Spider-Man rich! We only only had a couple different Spiders Man to choose from, and then also all the cartoon versions, if we could find it online somewhere. These teens wanted more, ever more. They won’t be sated by mere movies. They must see Gyllenhaal in the flesh and once they see him, already in character, waiting for them to take their seats so they can all get on with the show, they must try to make him laugh or make his character laugh. Will anything be enough for them? Will they keep knocking at the door of Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters until Jake Gyllenhaal himself emerges? And then what? Peace, finally?